There’s work to be done

Eighteen hours ago, I wrote an outline for a post. Because of today’s appalling events in DC and in state capitals around the country, it didn’t get written. But several people have asked for the outline, so here it is.

Why do I talk about trains in circumstances like these? They are part of rebuilding our society.

There’s lots of work to be done. It’s taken decades to get where we are now, so we need to get started now.

  1. Restore quality schools.
    -Recruit, train and pay teachers as the indispensable professionals they are.
    -Provide curricula that focus on building informed, media-literate citizens.
    -Foster science, to build the next generation of pandemic-fighters and space explorers.
  2. Restore accountable media.
    -Traditional and social media must be responsible to the communities they serve, not owners and advertisers.
    -Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would be a start.
    -End exemptions for the so-called “churches” that are nothing more than fronts for grifts and political hate groups.
  3. Reverse inequality.
  4. Focus on the future, not the next election.
    -Reverse policies that foster unsustainable climate change.
  5. Foster communication, connections and understanding with people who don’t look like you.
    -Encourage efficient transportation, transit and passenger trains, using today’s infrastructure and technologies, while building for the future.
  6. Politicians should be accountable to voters, not big donors.

Passenger rail does 4 and 5, which is why I advocate for it.

How conservative can you get?

Help make passenger rail part of economic recovery

The upheavals caused by COVID-19 have called into question everything about how our society plans for the future.

Legislators in Washington, DC and every state capital are struggling to rethink priorities and budgets. “Transportation as usual,” as with so many other things, is out the window.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for rail advocates to convince elected officials that passenger rail belongs on the list of environmentally-friendly projects to speed our economic recovery. But we have to get our priorities straight. There are a number of new high-speed rail lines in the works, like those in California and Texas, that will deliver tremendous benefits once they begin operating. While it’s essential that we continue planning for the implementation of these projects, we must recognize that they will take decades to happen and, by themselves, will serve only a few large metropolitan areas. How do we balance our approach to solving these pressing short- and long-term issues?

Given the circumstances, we must prioritize rail projects that can be implemented quickly. We need to make the most of existing infrastructure, provide service to more communities, and improve our transportation grid with useful connections to other modes, especially local transit. Building a new network of regional passenger rail services will help us put people back to work right now and lay a solid foundation for future high-speed rail.

Many such projects are in the works. Here are a selected few:

Gulf Coast


Mountain West



We Can Make it Happen

It won’t be easy, but with your help we can make our voices heard in Washington, DC and in state capitals throughout the country. Please consider donating to, becoming a member of, or volunteering for these passenger rail advocacy organizations:

Physical distancing, social uniting

Our society has been practicing “social distancing” long before COVID-19. Most of us only interact with people like us, listen to media for us, and learn from teachers like us.

We cannot let that continue. We must maintain the “physical distancing” requirements recommended by health professionals. We must practice “social uniting:” make the extra effort needed to listen to, interact with, and learn from those who are not like us. And we must stop saying “yes, but.”

Black lives matter. No “buts.”

What does the future hold?

The medical experts don’t know. Elected officials don’t know. The financial wizards don’t know. There are two types of stories being published about Warren Buffett’s annual shareholders meeting. One type is headlined “Buffett remains optimistic about future despite coronavirus.” The other, from the BBC and various travel blogs, is headlined “Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Sells All Airline Stocks.”

So what does the future hold? Uncertainty. And a world that has changed, permanently.

Mr. Buffett admitted to making an “understandable mistake” in his purchase of airline stocks. But it appears that he has not sold his stake in BNSF Railway, Does this mean that there is a chance for a less car- and airplane-dependent transportation future? One that’s more sustainable and less polluting? France and Germany seem to think so.

Washington state is one of many places that was rethinking its transportation system, even before the advent of COVID-19. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild our transportation network with more trains, more transit, more bikes, fewer cars, and fewer airplanes. Tell your elected representatives — that’s what we need!

The Passenger Rail Future is National

Two recent posts underscore why cutting up Amtrak is a pipe dream:

1. The national network is still the only configuration that will consistently receive the amount of political support needed to maintain reliable rail service.

Remember ‘National or Nothing’?

2. Those who are naive enough to believe that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor could be spun off into a profit-making enterprise need to look at the century-long backlog of huge and very expensive maintenance that needs to be done to make that viable. And in the meantime, Amtrak’s cash cow is facing competition from services like this one:

Better Than the Acela: A Review of AA’s Shuttle Service on the ERJ-190 From NYC to Boston

Some people want Amtrak to focus on the Northeast Corridor, and have little or no service anywhere else. Even in the very unlikely scenario that Congress approved such a plan, we’d end up with a future that would look like today’s VIA Rail Canadian train 1, which ran 37 hours late somewhere near Edmonton.

Contact your elected representatives and tell them that this is not acceptable!

Images from Green means on time or less than 30 minutes late. Yellow means 30-60 minutes late. Red means 1-3 hours late. Black means more than 3 hours late.

Advocacy and high-speed rail

Commentary from Andrew Lodriguss

Advocating for better transportation in a country dominated by political special interests can be like walking through a minefield. America is an anamoly in the world owing to the fact that transportation policy in this country is often rigged to the benefit of aviation and automotive industries; And in our halls of government criticism to the idea of transit is everywhere. One of many reasons for why expansion of existing transit in the US is often subject to political skepticism is because of how hard it is to use existing transit given many instances where it just doesn’t serve meaningful activity centers.

In California, a state which prides itself as being a beehive of innovating minds, the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco be damned! Your new governor, a slick politician named Gavin Newsom, has decided that the already-under-construction portions of High Speed Rail will be the only ones to see their completion in the next decade. The cities which are going to have high speed rail, Bakersfield and Merced, are hardly the kind of activity centers that will offer a meaningful use case for HSR in future years. It is a macroscopic case of the all-too common syndrome of American transit planners. They simply will not boldly seek the substantial capital to put transit in places where it can offer meaningful connectivity– in America that is precisely what we sit back and let the highway planners do (to the chagrin of people who have traveled all through Europe without having to sit in a single traffic jam. Interestingly, European planners do not look at transit as being welfare– they see it for what it is: basic and viable transportation).

Us rail advocates do not want the government to plunge us into a trillion dollars of debt so that we can have shiny toys. We want a robust multimodal transportation grid that capitalizes on safe and widely available technology. But the governor has set rail advocates up to look like trigger happy debt fanatics owing to the fact that 10 years from now we’ll be trying to celebrate and call for the expansion of a French-style bullet train link which is skimming for passengers in city pairs that are analogous to pairs like Little Rock to Springfield, or Des Moines to Rochester: places which are simply too remote to see a vast boost in quality of life from the onset of blockbuster infrastructure.

Governor Newsom shot the bullet train to appease special interest groups and help lay a path to re-election. Once again, politics has defeated the case for rational human connectivity.

In Texas however, a project is being built in the image of a privately-funded infrastructure concept which will link Houston to Dallas via a bullet train whose trip time from hither to yon will be just 90 minutes. In due time Californians will raise quite a hissy fit over the opportunity their state is missing by failing to capitalize on the benefits of a transportation link which can ease traffic congestion, enhance the safety of intercity transportation, provide a use case for renewable energy, and offer more freedom to the commuting public in where they wish to domicile knowing that a fast, safe, reliable trip to and from work is available quite seamlessly.

This statement is truly yours from the desk of Andrew Charles Lodriguss: Board Director and liaison for Grassroots advocacy with the Rail Passengers Association and Vice President of the Louisiana Association of Railroad Passengers.

Keep in mind that my statement is not an official policy statement of either organization which I represent in a leadership capacity. Please consider a membership in the Rail Passengers Association: America’s largest nonprofit organization which acts as THE voice of the transit & rail passenger.

Empire Builder Advocates posts new website

Passenger Train Advocates:

I’m pleased to announce the creation of a website devoted to the Empire Builder:
With all the chaos surrounding current Amtrak management, it probably couldn’t come at a more opportune time!

This will not be the same as a Facebook or Yahoogroups situation but rather a real interactive website covering all aspects of what makes the train tick. The primary focus, of course, must be advocacy, and there’s already a link to determine who the appropriate elected officials are that can be accessed through a zip code. Beyond that, however, there is a “station” section with a page for all 46 stations. The goal here will be to designate a representative (or representatives) for each community that will be granted administrative access to the site so that he/she/they can add content. Content will include local elected officials, as well as travel information such as hotels, transit, rental cars, and tourist attractions. The site will also feature updates about threats and opportunities to the train of which there are an extraordinary number right now.

If anyone has any ideas or could suggest a representative at any of the on-line cities, please let me know. We’re also looking for photos of each station and the Empire Builder all along the route. The photos are, more or less, window dressing, but that’s what is needed in today’s environment to capture attention, unfortunately. And, also we’re open to suggestions with regard to things to add to the site. Ideally, the site will be “all things Empire Builder” including a forum and historical information. Historical information is an important consideration with the Empire Builder, named for James J. Hill, whose railroad helped settle the American Northwest and was the primary driver in the creation of Glacier National Park. The legacy of the “Empire Builder” – both the person and the train – is a great reminder to Americans about the importance of railroads – and passenger trains – to the country even today.

This is site is being developed with the assistance of the Rail Passengers Association, a nationwide passenger train advocacy group.

–Mark Meyer

How we can really make a difference for the future of passenger rail

On this Independence Day, let’s make democracy work for the future of American passenger rail.

Please contact your elected officials–Senators, US Representatives, state legislators, and local leaders (find their contact information here)–and tell them that you want a strong, safe and reliable network of passenger trains that serve the entire country.

Specifically, ask them to make the following changes to the current laws governing passenger rail:

  • Repeal Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). This is the provision that requires train routes less than 750 miles long to be paid for by the states.
  • Repeal the provisions that require Amtrak to break even on food and beverage service.
  • Require that Amtrak give two years’ notice before discontinuing train routes. If any route is discontinued, this would be the minimum time needed for a single state or group of states to put together funding to replace the service. And if local funding is found for such a service, require that local agencies be given the same access to the Class I freight infrastructure that Amtrak currently has.
  • Codify that the existing services are the minimum that Amtrak can provide in order to maintain a national passenger rail network.
  • Split Amtrak’s Federal appropriation into three parts: the national network, the regional corridors, and the Northeast Corridor. Specify that income from one part cannot be used to subsidize another part.
  • Require that Amtrak use transparent accounting.
  • If a route must be suspended due to acts of God (mudslides, tunnel collapses, etc.) Amtrak is required to make substantial steps to provide alternative transportation (paid for by the host railroad, if applicable). Amtrak is required to restart its service as soon as feasible and track conditions permit.
  • Encourage Amtrak to pursue income from ancillary services, such as carrying private passenger cars (PV).

Remember, it’s we the taxpayers, and our elected representatives, who make the decisions about the future of passenger rail. So contact your elected officials, and don’t forget to register to vote! The registration deadline is coming soon in many states.

Amtrak Plans to Kill SW Chief with Bustitution

From: George Chilson

The following just in: Amtrak’s PowerPoint pitch to the Congressional delegation from KS, CO and NM. Not pretty and reflects Amtrak’s lack of comprehension of the impact their proposed bustitution between Albuquerque and either La Junta (336 highway miles and 5:40 driving time) or Dodge City (512 highway miles and 8:25 driving time).

Also attached:

  • Matt Fels calculation of what would happen to revenue and volume if Amtrak only ran Chief only between Chicago-Kansas City and Albuquerque-LAX. I’m going to ask him to revise to include Dodge City or La Junta as possible end points so we’ll know how much revenue Amtrak puts in jeopardy because of its proposed bustitution.
  • Matt Fels graphic representation of passenger volumes between O&D for all LD trains. Format may be a bit difficult to understand at first but it shows volume (not revenue) for passengers traveling between end points; those traveling between one end point and an intermediate end point and those traveling between intermediate stations.

Additional points in rejoinder to Amtrak’s presentation:

  • “Loss” is a pejorative term that implies the goal is profit rather than what it is: “essential, fundamental, basic and often the only mobility choice.” Amtrak ranks the Chief as #14 (out of 15 routes) in terms of total “loss” of $56 M in FY 17.
  • Amtrak uses the red herring “Loss per rider” metric in a deliberate attempt to mislead, ranking the Chief as #13. This metric devalues people who take longer trips. Federal cost per passenger mile is a more neutral and accurate term. At 17.3 cents, the Chief ranks #5 out of 15. If Amtrak were honest, it would report total taxpayer cost instead of including state payments as revenue. By this statistic the Chief would rank #26 out of 49. Not bad for what Amtrak is trying to portray as a “loser.”
  • Amtrak also ignores an obvious fact (that they should know): that approximately $23 million of the $56 million it claims the Chief “loses” each year represent costs that are either fixed or shared with other routes that would not cease with the Chiefs elimination but be reallocated to other routes.

We’re in a fight to save the national system. Amtrak needs to relearn the lesson that its plan to kill the national network one route at a time will cause far more pain than it is worth.



Further comment 6/23/18:

This article is based on an Amtrak Power Point slide show presented to the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico Congressional delegations. It showed Amtrak’s plan to replace through Chicago-Albuquerque-Los Angeles SOUTHWEST CHIEF train service with a stub train from Chicago to either Dodge City, KS or La Junta, CO; then a bus for up to 550 miles from Dodge City to Albuquerque; finally connecting to another stub train from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. As noted below the bus ride will probably mean sitting up overnight!

We have been lied to by Amtrak, which only last month promised the Rail Passengers Association (NARP) that it had no plans to cut any national network services. I am an RPA Vice Chair, although these views are my own. We have been played for suckers by the Anderson Amtrak management. But more importantly they’ve done the same to all their supporters in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, indeed throughout the West.

This is the test case for trying Amtrak in trying to create a kind of “Balkan Track”–a train here and train there–but all services isolated and of only local use. Since the Amtrak law requires full state support of all routes under 750 milers, it’s easy to understand that such a disconnected network will never survive. Even the Northeast Corridor would wither if Amtrak served only the east coast, a few local lines in the Midwest and California, Oregon and Washington. Such a “network” would serve less than half the states and would never win a funding vote in Congress.

And assurances for the continuation of trains like the EMPIRE BUILDER and the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR can no longer be taken as true either. If the SOUTHWEST CHIEF has to go because of largely PTC (Positive Train Control) exempt track, the others will follow, as they all have this problem on at least a few route segments. Already reliable sources confirm that Amtrak has asked the Union Pacific for costs to reroute the CZ thru Wyoming west of Denver. This would eliminate the stunning crossing of the Colorado Rockies by day, which is the great draw of the route. Yet this reroute bypasses tracks that are legally PTC exempt, which means Amtrak is not prohibited from running there. This is the situation on the great majority of the SW CHIEF line as well.

The former Santa Fe RR mainline used by the SW CHIEF is already fully equipped with a superb “heritage” safety system, automatic train stop. Already this pre-World War II system will stop any train that passes a block signal in violation of a green light, or exceeds the speed limit. PTC is not required under Federal law over lines with fewer than six passenger trains per day and less than 50,000,000 tons of freight per year. This perfectly defines the SW CHIEF line. The Raton Pass route is legally PTC exempt except in the Rail Runner district, yet Amtrak is falsely blaming the absence of PTC for removing 550 miles of service from Dodge City to Albuquerque. The Rail Runner is moving to complete PTC and should get an extension to 2020, yet Amtrak disingenuously uses this as an excuse to end service!

The incredibly long SW CHIEF bus bridge will obviously not work and Amtrak knows that very well. If they run the stub trains on a daylight schedule, as they suggest in the slides shown to the Congressional delegation, then the bus bridge would be an overnight trip! And this is very likely, as they could then can diner and sleeper service on the line if the trains ran only by day/evening.

And the day trains would effectively connect to nothing. To get from Los Angeles to Albuquerque by day means leaving Los Angeles at six to seven AM at the latest, before any connections could arrive. Westbound arrivals would be after ten at night. The same would happen to a purported day train from Chicago to either Dodge City or La Junta. Indeed to La Junta all by day/evening from Chicago is impossible.

And why these points, rather than Lamy, if PTC is the issue? At most the bus bridge would only be needed from Lamy to Albuquerque if the Rail Runner’s extension is denied. Why does Amtrak want to subject its passengers to over eight hours on a bus when it could be only an hour? And Albuquerque itself falls in the “PTC not ready” zone, which actually extends from the junction with the new Santa Fe Rail Runner line, just west of Lamy to Isleta, New Mexico, well west of Albuquerque. If they can get into Albuquerque from Los Angeles why not from Lamy?

We need to go beyond mere opposition to calling out the dishonesty underlying Amtrak’s double cross on the Tiger Grant, their misrepresentations to their users of their plans and the impossibility of the so-called substitute plan of working as purported.

A real truth is in the last slide in the Amtrak Congressional presentation. This is really an attempt to cost shift. Amtrak claims to favor new trains in Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma in lieu of the SW CHIEF. But it knows perfectly well these trains will never run.

Services like the suggested “Front Range Corridor” from Cheyenne to Pueblo Corridor would require 100% state support, as would a new Chicago to KC mini Corridor. More improbably these new services would require multi-state compacts. This simply will not happen. Just yesterday the long planned New Orleans-Mobile service restoration collapsed when Mississippi and Alabama refused to contribute to the costs. Amtrak knows this, but as throughout this process fails to mention that in its disgraceful slide show on its plans to “restructure” the SW CHIEF and transfer as much as possible of its costs to the states.

If the SWC dies it will not be replaced, rather neglect of maintenance La Junta to ABQ will guarantee it won’t return even after the Rail Runner gets its PTC going. I applaud the opposition by the Congressional members in both houses and on both sides of the aisle. If Amtrak pulls this off it will die, as it will never win a national appropriation without a national network. This can not be allowed to happen. The SW CHIEF is the 5th most heavily used train in the United States. This travesty of a plan will devastate ridership, as Amtrak very well knows.

–Carl Fowler